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SANTA FE – New Mexico’s pandemic-related public health order was extended Friday by the state’s top health official, but only after being changed to remove certain reporting requirements and shift some COVID-19 vaccine mandates to fall under federal guidelines.
In addition, the revised health order no longer requires New Mexico businesses to report outbreaks of COVID-19 cases – defined as four or more cases within a 14-day period – to the state Environment Department under what had been known as the “rapid response” program.
Acting state Health Secretary David Scrase, who signed the new public health order that runs through Aug. 26, said new COVID-19 guidelines released this week by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show how the pandemic has changed over the last two years.
“Over the past eight months we have excelled in implementing the tools to minimize the spread of COVID-19 such as: vaccines, boosters, home testing and oral treatments that have helped reduce hospitalizations and deaths,” Scrase said in a statement.
Since declaring the COVID-19 pandemic a public health emergency in March 2020, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s administration has extended the emergency order more than 30 times and issued multiple related health orders.
Some of the state-imposed mandates, including a mask requirement that was lifted in February, have drawn criticism, though backers have insisted they were necessary in a state with high poverty rates and a chronic health care worker shortage.
The newest public health order leaves in place a state mandate that workers in New Mexico prisons and other correctional facilities be vaccinated against COVID-19 unless they are granted an exemption.
But it removes a vaccine and face mask requirement for most hospital and health care employees, as those pandemic-related mandates will now fall under guidelines put in place by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
The federal agency currently requires COVID-19 vaccine shots for workers in most health care settings, while mask wearing is recommended in certain cases but not required.
Amid a rise of new virus variants, COVID-19 hospitalizations have ticked up but remain well below peak levels. The Department of Health on Friday reported 184 hospitalizations, a 15% increase over the number reported a week ago.
Meanwhile, about 73% of New Mexico’s total population is classified as fully vaccinated by the CDC, the 13th-highest ranking among states.
Fully vaccinated means the person has had either one dose of a single-dose vaccine or two doses of an mRNA vaccine, such as Moderna or Pfizer.
Journal Capitol Bureau reporter Dan McKay contributed to this report.